A Post-Liberal Political Economy for Labour*
Blue Labour, Catholic Social Thought and the ‘Civil Economy’ Alternative
‘Ever since the Thatcher era, British politics has been defined by forms of economic and social liberalism. The right won the argument for the former and the left the argument for the latter, or so it is said. Yet in the post-crash era, this ideological settlement is beginning to fracture.
The right is re-examining its crude economic liberalism and the left its social liberalism. This shift is characterised neither by a revival of socialist economics, nor by one of reactionary conservatism. Rather, it is defined by a mutual recognition that liberalism, at least in some of its guises, does not provide all the answers to Britain’s most entrenched problems: its imbalanced economy, its atomised society, its lack of common identity.’
New Statesman, 29 March 2013
‘Towards the Post-Liberal Future’, the second Blue Labour Midlands Seminar took place at the University of Nottingham on 5 July 2013. The aim of this seminar was to gather Blue Labour thinkers, supporters and activists to explore and discuss substantive and emerging Blue Labour themes.
Blue Labour seeks to affirm the indelible elements of British society that cannot be reduced to individual choice. It honours faith, family, love of ‘place’ and a refusal to bow to the state or the market, both of which can de-humanise and commodify us.
At the event Professor John Milbank gave the opening address and Lord Glasman closed the conference. Panel discussions covered a broad and critical range of concerns such as welfare, One Nation Labour, election strategy and the contribution of Catholic Social Teaching. Around thirty people attended on the day and had an enjoyable and stimulating day. It is hoped that a similar event will be held in July 2014.
The above mentioned quote from the New Statesman demonstrates that our embrace of individualism in our economic and social relationships has been exposed as the sham offer it always was. The promise that markets have all the answers, that ‘if it feels good, do it’ and that responsibility, family values and love for your neighbour are not welcome in the modern world have proved hollow. Political theorists might label these defining characteristics of the modern world as expressions of social and economic liberalism that have been dominated since the 1960s and 1980s. Now that they are in crisis, their fragmentation leaves a large gap. It is a vacuum that can be exploited by dark forces seeking dominance and certainty.
Theologians, community activists and ordinary people with a desire for a better path are seeking to craft a new politics that can fill this vacuum at the expense of populism and extremism. Left and Right are re-evaluating previous assumptions about society, economics and identity. The new movement seeks to stimulate a debate on how Britain responds to the challenges in this ‘post-liberal’ landscape. In the Labour Party and on the centre-left a new movement is growing which sees vibrant Christian faith as central to renewing politics and society. The contributions by Jon Cruddas MP, Vicky Beeching and Andy Flannagan at the recent launch of Christians on the Left captured this inspirational energy that embodies this new politics.
The ‘Post-Liberal’ debate is but one small part of this broad movement. It has opened up a space to explore what a new approach to economics, politics and society might look like. And it is the need for a post-liberal approach to economic life that Adrian Pabst explores in the paper ‘A Post-Liberal Political Economy for Labour: Blue Labour, Catholic Social Thought and the ‘Civil Economy’ Alternative’, which is based on his contribution to the Blue Labour seminar.
Although mutual ownership became popular initially at the time of the crash the recent problems in the Coop have dented this popular support. While people recognise that the market cannot always be relied upon to be ‘fair’ there is no coherent and consistent support for an alternative. Has the case been made for an alternative in this paper or elsewhere?